7 minute read

On Thursday afternoon the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council (CJAC) held their monthly meeting via WebEx. Chairman Clay Bennett called the meeting to order after establishing quorum.

The group heard a presentation from Police Chief Wade Gourley about initiatives to better connect with the community, and to address officer wellness.A presentation was also given by the Honorable Judge Amy Polumbo about continuing legal education programming she will be offering at the Courthouse.

A subcommittee of CJAC gave an update on plans to make the Jail a more efficient environment, specifically by the possible addition of a new annex. After that, the group had the opportunity to sign on to a letter from CJAC to the State Legislature asking them to fund SQ781.

Police Update

Police Chief Wade Gourley gave a presentation to the group about Department initiatives to connect to the community.

Gourley briefly described a program called Faith & Blue, wherein local police departments across the country partnered with churches and faith-based organizations to hold events and town halls locally. 

Gourley said OKCPD joined in the framing of a house with Habitat for Humanity. They also held a couple of meet and greets and lunches with local churches, and finished up the day’s long program with a town hall style meeting at City Presbyterian, where Gourley and fellow police leadership took questions.

Gourley claimed that new consulting firm 21cp has continued these town halls, referring to one a couple of months ago at a church and this week’s virtual town hall, that was not attended by Gourley or other representatives of the local PD or the local Fraternal Order of Police.

VCAT

Gourley shifted the focus of his presentation to the Violent Criminal Apprehension Team. This is a special squad formed for the specific task of apprehending people involved in gun-related crime or dangerous felonies. Gourley said this team was responsible for solving the murder of Riah Thomas.

Gourley said that Riah was two years old when she was killed in a drive-by shooting. Gourley said that the police don’t get a lot of cooperation from people in the area where Riah’s family lived. The case went cold for some time, but one year to the day, the police were able to arrest and charge two suspects for the murder.

Gourley said that the resources available to the VCAT solved that crime.

police chief
Oklahoma City Chief of Police Wade Gourley. (Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press)

Since the Team was set up they have made over 800 felony arrests, with only 23 uses of force. Gourley said that they now solve the majority of homicide cases within 24 to 72 hours.

Gourley went on to say that they are trying to build a new culture in the department. To that end, the department has developed “core values.”

Those core values are Integrity, Compassion, Accountability, Respect, and Equity. Those words form the acronym “I CARE.”

The sanctity of life is at the heart of the department, Gourley said, but declined to make any comments about any of the criminal charges or wrongful death suits against members of the department.

Gourley said that the department has launched a wellness initiative with several dedicated officers, as well as a service dog named Will who visits members of the Department often.

During the Public Comment portion of the meeting, local activist and law student Jess Eddy said that Gourley’s presentation was disingenuous and “performative.” Eddy said that Gourley has yet to hold a constructive conversation with community members with legitimate grievances against the department.

“This won’t be solved by creating cute acronyms or walking a dog around the department,” Eddy said.

Judge Palumbo

Judge Amy Palumbo of the District Court gave a brief presentation on plans for ongoing legal education opportunities.

Palumbo said that her target audience for the Lunch and Learn program is attorneys who have been practicing criminal law for fewer than three years, though she also welcomes other criminal law attorneys who would simply like to brush up on best practices.

The series of learning opportunities will feature partnership with local services for clients and families.

District 2 County Commissioner Brian Maughan’s office will give a presentation on Maughan’s SHINE program. Other groups will give presentations on diversion programs and community sentencing. These groups will include drug court, mental health court, ReMerge, and others.

The District Attorney’s office will also bring a presentation for those wanting to learn more about their role.

Judge Palumbo managed to get this opportunity authorized by the Oklahoma Bar Association to consider this program as one hour of Continuing Legal Education, something that all Bar members are expected to pursue every year.

Facilities Improvements

CJAC members Dan Straughan and Sue Ann Arnall gave an update on their subcommittee that is looking at facility improvements.

Arnall deferred to Straughan to begin their presentation.

Straughan said that their first task was to really look at the built environment of the Jail facility. He said the medical ward and intake both need a lot of work. The current medical facility is on the 12th floor of the 13-floor Jail. Intake is crowded and difficult.

Straughan referenced Turn Key Health, the healthcare provider for the Jail, who gave a presentation to CJAC some months back. Turn Key used the Tulsa County Jail as an example of how intake should be used.

Tulsa’s intake process is designed to keep people from being put in a cell for as long as possible. One of the propositions for the suggested Annex some members of CJAC wish to build, is to include a courtroom to speed up the process of releasing new detainees on bonds.

Straughan said that the subcommittee was at a point in the process where they need the expertise of a consultant to help determine what their needs are and what the feasibility of meeting those needs might be, and to help design an efficient floor plan.

Arnall said that right now the Jail isn’t certain what it’s population demographics really are, and how many people they should actually build for.

New database software, Jail Tracker, has greatly improved the Jail’s ability to find out who is in the jail, for how long, and for what offenses. Previously, if somebody wanted to know how many people were being detained for domestic violence charges, it would be a painstaking task to prepare a report.

Arnall said that there are currently 412 people who have been at the Jail for over six months. She said that the logistical effort of simply moving detainees around the Jail often results in people being held and not seeing their attorney until they are present for their first court date.

The group voted to draft an RFP for interested consultants to bid on providing services. Executive Director Tim Tardibono explained that the budget for this consultant would come from carry-over money that CJAC already has.

SQ 781

In their final bit of official business, CJAC considered a resolution to send a letter to the Oklahoma State Legislature encouraging them to fund State Question 781.

SQ 781 was passed by the voters of Oklahoma in 2016, coupled with SQ 780. 780 was a criminal justice reform bill that passed with a great deal of bipartisan support. 

However, over the next couple of years, some legislators tried to claim the people of Oklahoma didn’t understand what they were voting for, and tried to strip the bill of its teeth.

SQ 781 was the funding mechanism for the two state questions.

Thursday’s resolution was to ask the state to actually fund the services provided for under SQ780. After discussion of funding mechanisms for poor counties with fewer programs, the group approved the resolution with some minor “friendly” amendments.

CJAC meets monthly. The next meeting is scheduled for May 20 at 3:00 p.m. Chairman Clay Bennett said that he expects to meet in person at that time.

Last Updated April 15, 2021, 7:39 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor